Tesla batteries have raised a lot of environmental questions later. But are they justified, and can they be safely recycled?
Tesla lithium-ion batteries can (and are) safely recycled. Tesla is one of the few companies that recycle 100% of its batteries. Recycling is now an economic necessity, as sky-high battery demand has driven the price of rare raw materials through the roof.
In this article, we'll cover how Tesla batteries are recycled. We'll also examine why it's so important to recycle lithium-ion batteries and some of the environmental effects of improper disposal. Finally, we'll examine why Tesla is committed to recycling its batteries and how it's so effective at doing so.
We sourced the information used in this article from reputable news articles, engineering guides, and papers detailing the process of recycling lithium-ion batteries. We also examined mining processes and the environmental impact of Tesla batteries.
How do Tesla Batteries Work?
Tesla batteries are really battery packs, which are made of thousands of individual battery cells. These smaller batteries are lithium-ion cells, which are also used in laptops and smartphones.
Thousands of cells are connected to each other in series, and hundreds of cells are grouped into individual blocks that make up the larger battery pack. This allows Tesla to single out a single block if there's a problem instead of replacing the whole pack.
Lithium-ion batteries have some of the best charge capacities in the industry, which is why they're favored for high-power draw electronics. They are also recyclable to a point, but only if done correctly.
What Are Tesla Batteries Made Of?
Before addressing whether or not Tesla batteries can be recycled, we must first examine what materials they contain. Tesla batteries are not like the disposable AA and AAA batteries you likely have in your kitchen or bathroom.
Tesla batteries contain a cathode, anode, electrolyte, and a separator. These four parts are essential to the operation of the battery; each contains different materials. The primary chemical used in the electrodes of lithium-ion batteries is lithium.
The various forms of lithium found in these batteries are lithium iron phosphate, lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide, lithium cobalt oxide, lithium manganese oxide, lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide, and lithium titanate.
Most of these metals can be recycled and used in new batteries or in other applications. It's cost-effective to do so and safe when done properly. In fact, it's far safer to recycle Tesla lithium-ion batteries than to simply throw them away.
Can You Throw Tesla Batteries Away?
These rechargeable batteries contain rare and toxic ingredients which, when assembled correctly, are extremely safe and efficient. But what about when they're punctured or destroyed?
Lithium-ion batteries have an inconvenient tendency to burn or explode when they're crushed or punctured. This is problematic, especially when considering the possible result of cardboard, plastic, and Lithium-ion batteries in a trash compactor.
Additionally, lithium-ion batteries can be very environmentally detrimental if allowed to degrade in a landfill. And finally, why waste all that rare and useful material? A single Tesla battery pack weighs close to a ton, which is a mostly reusable rare metal that can reduce costs for future battery production.
Where Are Lithium-Ion Batteries Recycled?
According to official sources, only about half of the lithium-ion batteries available for recycling are actually recycled. When you think about it, this is a tragedy, and Tesla is not keen on allowing it to continue.
Tesla has a responsibility to safely dispose of its products, or at least make it easier for the public to do so. As of 2021, lithium battery recycling it's growing at comforting rates due in part to Tesla.
As you can probably guess, most lithium-ion battery recycling takes place in countries with lax environmental and worker safety regulations. The human cost of this is unknown, but the environmental destruction is clear to see in the immediate areas surrounding shoddy recycling plants.
Thankfully, recent developments have made it economically viable to recycle batteries here in North America, where are strict environmental regulations and worker protection laws can finally bring responsible recycling to consumers and producers of electric cars.
Does Tesla Recycle its Own Batteries?
Many people wonder what happens to a Tesla battery when the company takes it back. As it turns out, Tesla facilities currently are not recycling its batteries directly. Instead, they outsource the process to specialize companies that have millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment.
But why can't a high-tech company like Tesla figure out a way to recycle its own products? At this point, if Tesla was forced to recycle its own batteries, it would have to spend billions developing facilities to do so.
This would drive up the cost of its products and inevitably slowed the development of electric cars. Eventually, Tesla will probably take up the responsibility once it has enough research and capital to develop its own recycling plants.
Tesla has shown an interest in centralizing the production of its products, as it just recently began producing its own battery cells for the first time.
Tesla does take some responsibility for ensuring the safe recycling of its batteries. Although it doesn't run the facility itself, it contracts with reputable companies that are known to safely and effectively recycle the toxic elements of lithium-ion batteries.
How Tesla Battery Recycling Works
So, how does Tesla battery recycling work? Tesla provides a wealth of information on how its products go from production, use, and disposal to recycling. Thankfully, Tesla is greatly concerned with the fate of its battery packs once they reach the end of their useful life.
Before disposing of the battery packs, it's worth considering that Tesla uses higher-quality batteries than many other companies. This extends the useful life of the batteries, which greatly reduces the amount of immediate waste involved and their disposal.
Additionally, Tesla recycles 100% of the battery packs that it receives, making it one of the only companies known to do so. They receive the battery packs from their repair locations and ship them to plants with the proper recycling facilities. From there, the material is recirculated, and much of it ends up in batteries once again.
What Does Tesla Recover from Recycled Batteries?
Tesla extracts more than just lithium from its battery packs once they are recycled. Other valuable metals, such as cobalt and nickel, are also present and in high demand due to increasing electronics production.
Tesla's Chief competitors, GM and Ford, are part of the reason why battery recycling is economically viable. Increased demand drives up costs, increasing the incentive for companies to develop more efficient and sustainable recycling methods.
What are the Ecological Benefits of Recycling Tesla Batteries?
The ecological and environmental benefits of recycling Tesla batteries are enormous. Before we get into the environmental cost of dumping battery chemicals, let's start at the beginning and examine how batteries come into being.
Metals such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel must be dug out of the ground before they reach manufacturing plants for refinement. The mining process itself is extraordinarily detrimental to people and the environment, as it uses deadly chemicals such as diesel and mercury.
These chemicals are then dumped, where they flow into waterways and the environment. After the metals are mined, the rough ore is processed and refined using equally dangerous chemicals. These too often end up back in the environment.
The final manufacturing process of lithium-ion batteries from raw materials is likely the least environmentally detrimental part of the process, as Tesla batteries only come from reputable manufacturers such as Panasonic.
Recycling Tesla batteries eliminates two of the three most environmentally detrimental practices on the planet. No more mining, no more metal processing in dangerous third-world factories.
The only facilities Tesla trusts to recycle and remanufacture its batteries are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and have an environmental impact much smaller than the process of extracting the materials from the earth. And now, some of these facilities operate in North America.
It's important to remember that refined chemicals in lithium-ion batteries are not the same as when they came out of the ground. They've been altered in processes that make them deadly, which is why keeping them out of the environment and sealed in a battery for as long as possible is in everybody's best interest.
How Much Does it Cost to Recycle a Tesla Battery?
Recycling costs Tesla about $4.50 per pound of battery. Assuming a Tesla battery is 1,500 pounds, it costs about $6,750 to recycle an entire Tesla battery pack.
This is quite reasonable considering that the initial cost of the battery is many orders of magnitude higher, and much of that cause comes from the initial mining and ore refining process.
It's not entirely clear who shoulders the majority recycling cost burden. That said, the industry is constantly looking for more economical solutions. As technology progresses, it's sure to become less expensive to recycle large automotive battery packs.
About THE AUTHOR
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding